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Going Back to School

(Everybody’s Doing It)

When most of us think of college, we picture recent high school grads venturing off on their own. But the “traditional” 18- to 24-year-old student is only part of the story. About 30%, or 1 in 3, college students are age 25 or older. Many of them have children, full-time jobs and other major responsibilities.


Regardless of your age, you fill out the same free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) as any other student. Even if you don’t think you’ll need to take out loans, it’s still a good idea to complete the FAFSA. Federal student loans offer better interest rates and repayment plans than other borrowing options such as private loans, credit cards and alternative financial services. Just be sure you understand the terms and don’t take out more than you need.

If you are already in your career, you might get tuition reimbursement from your employer. Working while earning a degree may sound challenging, but if your employer pays part or all of your tuition you won’t have as much student loan debt to pay off. You can use this education as leverage to request a higher salary later on.

Research the grants, scholarships and repayment options available to military veterans, active-duty personnel and family members at


While more education generally leads to higher financial well-being, going back to school is not a magic bullet. Where you go to school, how much debt you take on, and the future earnings potential in your career all matter when considering higher education.

Before you commit to a program, calculate not only tuition, books and student loan debt, but also your time and energy. Is the trade-off worth the sacrifice? How likely are you to make enough money in your career to pay off loans?

Use and to compare tuition and graduation rates, percentages of minority students, the number of Pell grants given to incoming freshmen, and other factors that matter to you.

You might discover that you don’t actually need a degree to improve your career outlook. Free and low-cost online courses from sites like, and can offer flexible and far cheaper alternatives to full degree programs.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia


[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]